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May 10, 2012 Newsletter Archive

Estate Planning for 21st Century Families

The shape of the modern family has transformed in recent years, and it is not uncommon now for families to be comprised of children, parents and siblings from different marriages that have blended together through remarriage or adoption. Divorce, remarriage, single parenthood, and unmarried couples living together, same-sex marriage, adoption, in-vitro fertilization and other iterations of families have become more common, and as a result, many family structures have taken on less conventional shapes in recent years.

When it comes to estate planning, 21st Century families should leave nothing to chance. State legislatures have not kept pace with unique family arrangements. Intestacy laws may not only leave loved ones vulnerable with little legal recourse, they may thwart the decedent's legacy intentions.

For individuals who die without a Will, intestacy laws determine the distribution of assets. Under these laws, all or a portion of assets will pass to the surviving spouse, if any, with the balance passing to descendants in equal shares. Under both Vermont and New Hampshire law, the portion passing to a surviving spouse is reduced if the individual who has died has children from a prior marriage; however, neither state recognizes the right of stepchildren to inherit.

Understanding intestacy laws is a good idea, but relying on them, rather than creating your own estate plan, is a bad idea. You do not need a small fortune to create your own Will and dying without one will assure that you cede control of your estate to state law.

Moreover, if your family is anything like many of the unique iterations discussed above, dying intestate is a certain way to leave your loved ones in disarray. Unless you view your lasting legacy as one of chaos, consider creating an estate plan that helps protect your loved ones, meets your goals of today and the future, and leaves much less to chance.

Common instances where families are uncertain as to how the distribution will occur include families where each spouse has children from a prior marriage, as well as children between them. These families may have blended seamlessly into a new and harmonious family unit, yet each individual will not be treated the same under the intestacy laws; some children will be excluded. In contrast, some families become blended families at a later stage in life, when children of each spouse are already adults. In circumstances such as these, spouses may want to maintain the distinction between children and stepchildren, and treat each type of child differently.

Concerns also arise over preserving assets for children from a former marriage while ensuring that a surviving spouse of a current marriage has adequate support after the first spouse has died. Couples worry that a surviving spouse will be impoverished, or conversely, a surviving spouse that receives the entire estate directly will squander the estate's assets. A good estate plan can arrange to have assets support a surviving spouse during his or her life and then be redirected to children of the first spouse to die. The surviving spouse can leave an estate plan that allows a distribution to his or her children as well. Such plans protect the interests that spouses have of caring for one another while allowing protection from a surviving spouse to direct estate assets away from the first spouse to die's children.

At the end of the day, regardless of your family situation, an estate plan gives you the ability to determine who will or will not be treated as a beneficiary of your estate. The composition of modern families can vary wildly; however, intestacy laws are based on traditional family structures and do not reflect this modern reality. Though it is never a good idea to resort to intestacy laws to dictate something as personal as your estate plan, it is even less advisable to do so if you have a blended family.

If you are interested in beginning the estate planning process, or if it is time for us to review your plan, please call Melendy Moritz PLLC at 802-457-9492 or 603-643-6072, or email us at daphne@melendymoritz.com.

We would love to hear from you! If you are interested in guest writing for our newsletter or simply have a comment to share, please let us know.

Melendy Moritz PLLC is a client centered boutique firm. We focus on your unique needs by providing the individualized legal counseling and advising tailored to your specific situation.

We concentrate on the planning that matters to you.
Call us at 603.643.6072 or 802.457.9492


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